The Power Plant, Toronto

ON-M5J 2G8 Toronto

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press release

Kader Attia
The Power Plant presents Kader Attia's first solo exhibition in Canada.

Over the last few years, the notion of “repair” as both a physical and symbolic act has been at the core of Kader Attia’s practice. His rhizomatic research on the nature of reparation and reappropriation is frequently driven by exchanges with thinkers from fields as wide-ranging as medicine, music, psychoanalysis, natural science, political science and architecture who explore within their own fields the issues he addresses in his practice. Drawing associations between methods of repair across cultures and the forms of reappropriation and resistance throughout history, his works often feature found ethnographic objects that speak to these instances of dispossession and attempted repair.

Attia draws a distinction between the modes through which repair is dealt with in what he describes as a ‘Modernity obsessed with the disappearance of injury’ and the treatments that traditional societies in ‘Africa, but also Japan and the west before modernity’ give to objects and bodies, which maintain the visual traces of an object’s history and remain encoded in each entity. Contrarily, attempts at repair in Western cultures are undergirded by a desire to return something to its original state, thereby making the injury or damage invisible. The Japanese practice of Kintsugi – where cracks are painted over in gold – sees beauty in brokenness by highlighting the object’s imperfections. In this way, the objects are also given a new life. Attia considers the contrasts in such an approach to loss and destruction with a neo-liberal consumerist impulse to discard and replace, and ultimately deny, that which is flawed. Attia proposes that the latter approach, when enacted upon the individual and collective psyche, can entail the suppression of trauma. One of the first culminations of this long-standing investigation was the installation The Repair from Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures at dOCUMENTA 13 (2012).

Repair as a methodology offers the potential for colonized or oppressed peoples to reinstate their freedom. While living in the Congo, the artist came across a Kuba raffia cloth that had been patched up with Vichy fabric, which prompted further research into such items. Like the notion underlining Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago, that cultures must cannibalize other cultures in order to regain control over their oppressors, Attia views repair based on the incorporation of Western materials as a gesture of resistance. He has proposed that ‘integrating a Western element into an African object is an intentional act…It means the slave is beginning to devour the symbols of power.’ Through his works, Attia also reflects on the ways that healing can take place both on an individual, collective and planetary scale.

Inspired by the gueules cassées of World War I, which saw the injury and disfigurement of millions of soldiers, Attia created J’accuse (2016), an installation of eighteen wooden busts, recalling a crowd of wounded soldiers and carved based on images of World War I veterans, arranged before a projection of the eponymous antiwar film by Abel Gance. Originally made in 1919, the film was reshot as a warning against the looming threat of war in 1938 and featured footage of these soldiers. As a guide for the busts, the artist used portraits from the archives of the Historisches Museum Frankfurt, the Musée du Service de Santé des Armées in Paris and the Wellcome Collection in London. The work suggests that the real damage was perpetrated by the ostracizing reactions of a society that viewed these faces as ‘monstrous.’ The capacity for such images to serve in the production of fear – particularly in a security-obsessed world order – lies at the heart of Attia’s inquiry.

For his first exhibition in Canada at The Power Plant, Attia will develop a new context-specific work around the notion of “repair” as it is manifested in a particularly Canadian/North American history.

After its presentation in Toronto, the exhibition will tour to the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Kader Attia (born 1970 in Dugny, France) lives and works in Berlin and Paris. Solo exhibitions of his work have been organized at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney, Australia (2017); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (2016); KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2013); Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (2012); The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA (2007); and Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, France (2006). His work has been shown in numerous group exhibitions around the world at venues including the Leopold Museum, Vienna (2016); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2016); MoMA, New York (2012); and multiple biennials, including the Venice Biennale (2017 and 2003); Sharjah Biennial (2017); Marrakech Biennial (2016 and 2014); dOCUMENTA, Kassel, Germany (2012); and Lyon Biennial (2005).